Alignment of preparation via first-year physics mechanics and calculus courses with expectations for a sophomore statics and dynamics course
Anecdotally, engineering faculty members complain students taking sophomore engineering science courses are not prepared with respect to mathematics and physics. In response, faculty members from mathematics and/or physics contend their courses have adequately prepared students in terms of needed knowledge and skills in their respective subjects. However, these conversations are rarely supported by carefully analyzed data with respect to key questions. Therefore, the authors have initiated a study to address questions including the following: • For sophomore engineering science courses, what is expected with respect to mathematical preparation? • For sophomore engineering science courses, what is expected with respect to preparation in physics mechanics? • To what extent are the expectations with respect to mathematics preparation aligned with the topics covered in first-year calculus courses? • To what extent are the expectations with respect to physics mechanics preparation aligned with the topics covered in first-year physics mechanics course? To answer the first two questions for a sophomore engineering course in statics and dynamics at a large public university, the authors used a matrix to analyze all of the homework and exam problems to see what knowledge and skills in mathematics and physics mechanics were needed to answer the questions. Validity of the analysis was checked by asking two doctoral students in mechanical engineering to analyze a randomly selected subset of the problems to determine to what extent their analysis agreed with the original analysis. Instead of asking one or more engineering faculty members for their expectations, analyzing homework and exam problems allowed the analysis to be based on actual evidence from an offering of the course instead of perceptions of faculty members about what they might want. From this analysis, a list of skills in mathematics and physics mechanics was constructed. To answer the last two questions, the student compared the list of knowledge and skills to the syllabi and table of contents for the first-year mathematics and physics mechanics courses. The paper will present results of these analyses and offer insights in terms of where the courses were well aligned and where alignment could benefit from further attention. Hopefully, this analysis will provide a firmer basis for future conversations about alignment between engineering science courses and the first-year courses that are, in part, expected to prepare students for these courses. © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education.
author list (cited authors)
Shryock, K. J., Srinivasa, A. R., & Froyd, J. E.